Finding That Ball Of Twine Once Again

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Back in the 1960s, CBS News' Charles Kuralt drove across this country to look for stories where no one else was looking. He called it "On the Road." Kuralt died in 1997, but the America he re-discovered is still out there. So CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman went off to re-trace his steps.

To the town of Darwin, Minn., it has become a treasure - a treasure now kept safe under lock and gazebo. It's a treasure Charles Kuralt discovered 30 years ago, when he pulled over his RV to interview the greatest collector … of all twine.

In his original dispatch, Kuralt reported, "Like many rural Americans of his age and upbringing, Francis Johnson believes in thrift and conservation."

"My mother taught me to not waste anything," Johnson told Kuralt.

"Nobody could accuse you of not wasting any string lately," Kuralt said.

The twine ball Johnson had collected weighed roughly 17,000 lbs.

It was the world's largest ball of twine. But just as Kuralt prophesized: "Somebody, somewhere may come up with a bigger ball of twine. And then where would Francis Johnson be?"

Francis passed away in 1989.

Today, Roger Warner is curator of the Twine Ball Museum in Darwin. He said that Francis, a zealous non-smoker, ended up dying of emphysema anyway - from breathing too many twine fibers.

Then to add insult to irony, eventually Francis lost his world record to the people of Cawker City, Kan., who worked together to make a heavier one.

But Warner said: "We still have our ball and we're proud of it."

Watch Kuralt's original report here.
Read more about Kuralt and this series.
That's why, if you look closely at the sign, it now says the world's largest twine ball made "by one man."

And yet even with that disclaimer, there is still contention.

In northern Wisconsin, CBS News found one. James Frank Kotera, a.k.a. JFK. He's dump manager for the town of Highland, home of "JFK's world famous twine ball."

JFK says he saw Kuralt's original twine ball story and has spent the last 30 years making a monster of his own. And, Hartman said, this baby is solid.

It weighs 19,850 lbs.

He says he's already got Darwin beat by more than a ton. Plus, his gets heavier every day, while Francis' old ball is actually shedding pounds.

Regardless, Warner has no plans to change the sign again - insisting Darwin still has the largest "ball" made by one man.

JFK described his egg-shaped ball as, "fairly round."

Warner thinks: "It's a strange shape to that one so what do you call a ball?"

In his report 30 years ago, Kuralt said: "So let this be a warning to compulsive string savers: This is where it may lead."

And when is going to stop?

"Well, I'm going to keep on working forever," JFK said.

As Johnson told Kuralt: "You don't have to be crazy but it helps."

  • Steve Hartman
    Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.